Just For Skeptics

Fact Sheet: Guns Save Lives

Fact Sheet: Guns Save Lives

A. Guns save more lives than they take; prevent more injuries than they inflict

* Guns used 2.5 million times a year in self-defense. Law-abiding citizens use guns to defend themselves against criminals as many as 2.5 million times every year -- or about 6,850 times a day. [1] This means that each year, firearms are used more than 80 times more often to protect the lives of honest citizens than to take lives. [2]

* Of the 2.5 million times citizens use their guns to defend themselves every year, the overwhelming majority merely brandish their gun or fire a warning shot to scare off their attackers. Less than 8% of the time, a citizen will kill or wound his/her attacker.[3]

* As many as 200,000 women use a gun every year to defend themselves against sexual abuse.[4]

* Even anti-gun Clinton researchers concede that guns are used 1.5 million times annually for self-defense. According to the Clinton Justice Department, there are as many as 1.5 million cases of self-defense every year. The National Institute of Justice published this figure in 1997 as part of "Guns in America" -- a study which was authored by noted anti-gun criminologists Philip Cook and Jens Ludwig.[5]

* Armed citizens kill more crooks than do the police. Citizens shoot and kill at least twice as many criminals as police do every year (1,527 to 606).[6] And readers of Newsweek learned that "only 2 percent of civilian shootings involved an innocent person mistakenly identified as a criminal. The 'error rate' for the police, however, was 11 percent, more than five times as high."[7]

* Handguns are the weapon of choice for self-defense. Citizens use handguns to protect themselves over 1.9 million times a year. [8] Many of these self-defense handguns could be labeled as "Saturday Night Specials."

B. Concealed carry laws help reduce crime

* Nationwide: one-half million self-defense uses. Every year, as many as one-half million citizens defend themselves with a firearm away from home. [9] * Concealed carry laws are dropping crime rates across the country. A comprehensive national study determined in 1996 that violent crime fell after states made it legal to carry concealed firearms. The results of the study showed:

* States which passed concealed carry laws reduced their murder rate by 8.5%, rapes by 5%, aggravated assaults by 7% and robbery by 3%; [10] and * If those states not having concealed carry laws had adopted such laws in 1992, then approximately 1,570 murders, 4,177 rapes, 60,000 aggravated assaults and over 11,000 robberies would have been avoided yearly.[11]

* Vermont: one of the safest five states in the country. In Vermont, citizens can carry a firearm without getting permission... without paying a fee... or without going through any kind of government-imposed waiting period. And yet for ten years in a row, Vermont has remained one of the top-five, safest states in the union -- having three times received the "Safest State Award."[12]

* Florida: concealed carry helps slash the murder rates in the state. In the fifteen years following the passage of Florida's concealed carry law in 1987, over 800,000 permits to carry firearms were issued to people in the state. [13] FBI reports show that the homicide rate in Florida, which in 1987 was much higher than the national average, fell 52% during that 15-year period -- thus putting the Florida rate below the national average. [14]

* Do firearms carry laws result in chaos? No. Consider the case of Florida. A citizen in the Sunshine State is far more likely to be attacked by an alligator than to be assaulted by a concealed carry holder.

1. During the first fifteen years that the Florida law was in effect, alligator attacks outpaced the number of crimes committed by carry holders by a 229 to 155 margin.

2. And even the 155 "crimes" committed by concealed carry permit holders are somewhat misleading as most of these infractions resulted from Floridians who accidentally carried their firearms into restricted areas, such as an airport. [15]

C. Criminals avoid armed citizens

* Kennesaw, GA. In 1982, this suburb of Atlanta passed a law requiring heads of households to keep at least one firearm in the house. The residential burglary rate subsequently dropped 89% in Kennesaw, compared to the modest 10.4% drop in Georgia as a whole. [16]

* Ten years later (1991), the residential burglary rate in Kennesaw was still 72% lower than it had been in 1981, before the law was passed. [17]

* Nationwide. Statistical comparisons with other countries show that burglars in the United States are far less apt to enter an occupied home than their foreign counterparts who live in countries where fewer civilians own firearms. Consider the following rates showing how often a homeowner is present when a burglar strikes:

* Homeowner occupancy rate in the gun control countries of Great Britain, Canada and Netherlands: 45% (average of the three countries); and, * Homeowner occupancy rate in the United States: 12.7%. [18] Rapes averted when women carry or use firearms for protection

* Orlando, FL. In 1966-67, the media highly publicized a safety course which taught Orlando women how to use guns. The result: Orlando's rape rate dropped 88% in 1967, whereas the rape rate remained constant in the rest of Florida and the nation. [19]

* Nationwide. In 1979, the Carter Justice Department found that of more than 32,000 attempted rapes, 32% were actually committed. But when a woman was armed with a gun or knife, only 3% of the attempted rapes were actually successful. [20] Justice Department study:

* 3/5 of felons polled agreed that "a criminal is not going to mess around with a victim he knows is armed with a gun." [21]

* 74% of felons polled agreed that "one reason burglars avoid houses when people are at home is that they fear being shot during the crime."[22] * 57% of felons polled agreed that "criminals are more worried about meeting an armed victim than they are about running into the police." [23]


[1] Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz, "Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense With a Gun," 86 The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Northwestern University School of Law, 1 (Fall 1995):164. Dr. Kleck is a professor in the school of criminology and criminal justice at Florida State University in Tallahassee. He has researched extensively and published several essays on the gun control issue. His book, Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America, has become a widely cited source in the gun control debate. In fact, this book earned Dr. Kleck the prestigious American Society of Criminology Michael J. Hindelang award for 1993. This award is given for the book published in the past two to three years that makes the most outstanding contribution to criminology. Even those who don't like the conclusions Dr. Kleck reaches, cannot argue with his impeccable research and methodology. In "A Tribute to a View I Have Opposed," Marvin E. Wolfgang writes that, "What troubles me is the article by Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz. The reason I am troubled is that they have provided an almost clear-cut case of methodologically sound research in support of something I have theoretically opposed for years, namely, the use of a gun in defense against a criminal perpetrator.... I have to admit my admiration for the care and caution expressed in this article and this research. Can it be true that about two million instances occur each year in which a gun was used as a defensive measure against crime? It is hard to believe. Yet, it is hard to challenge the data collected. We do not have contrary evidence." Wolfgang, "A Tribute to a View I Have Opposed," The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, at 188.

Wolfgang says there is no "contrary evidence." Indeed, there are more than a dozen national polls -- one of which was conducted by The Los Angeles Times -- that have found figures comparable to the Kleck-Gertz study. Even the Clinton Justice Department (through the National Institute of Justice) found there were as many as 1.5 million defensive users of firearms every year. See National Institute of Justice, "Guns in America: National Survey on Private Ownership and Use of Firearms," Research in Brief (May 1997).

As for Dr. Kleck, readers of his materials may be interested to know that he is a member of the ACLU, Amnesty International USA, and Common Cause. He is not and has never been a member of or contributor to any advocacy group on either side of the gun control debate.

[2] According to the National Safety Council, the total number of gun deaths (by accidents, suicides and homicides) account for less than 30,000 deaths per year. See Injury Facts, published yearly by the National Safety Council, Itasca, Illinois.

[3] Kleck and Gertz, "Armed Resistance to Crime," at 173, 185.

[4]Kleck and Gertz, "Armed Resistance to Crime," at 185.

[5]Philip J. Cook and Jens Ludwig, "Guns in America: National Survey on Private Ownership and Use of Firearms," NIJ Research in Brief (May 1997); available at http://www.ncjrs.org/txtfiles/165476.txt on the internet. The finding of 1.5 million yearly self-defense cases did not sit well with the anti-gun bias of the study's authors, who attempted to explain why there could not possibly be one and a half million cases of self-defense every year. Nevertheless, the 1.5 million figure is consistent with a mountain of independent surveys showing similar figures. The sponsors of these studies -- nearly a dozen -- are quite varied, and include anti-gun organizations, news media organizations, governments and commercial polling firms. See also Kleck and Gertz, supra note 1, pp. 182-183.

[6]Kleck, Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America, (1991):111-116, 148.

[7]George F. Will, "Are We 'a Nation of Cowards'?," Newsweek (15 November 1993):93.

[8]Id. at 164, 185.

[9]Dr. Gary Kleck, interview with J. Neil Schulman, "Q and A: Guns, crime and self-defense," The Orange County Register (19 September 1993). In the interview with Schulman, Dr. Kleck reports on findings from a national survey which he and Dr. Marc Gertz conducted in Spring, 1993 -- a survey which findings were reported in Kleck and Gertz, "Armed Resistance to Crime."

[10]One of the authors of the University of Chicago study reported on the study's findings in John R. Lott, Jr., "More Guns, Less Violent Crime," The Wall Street Journal (28 August 1996). See also John R. Lott, Jr. and David B. Mustard, "Crime, Deterrence, and Right-to-Carry Concealed Handguns," University of Chicago (15 August 1996); and Lott, More Guns, Less Crime (1998, 2000).

[11]Lott and Mustard, "Crime, Deterrence, and Right-to-Carry Concealed Handguns."

[12]Kathleen O'Leary Morgan, Scott Morgan and Neal Quitno, "Rankings of States in Most Dangerous/Safest State Awards 1994 to 2003," Morgan Quitno Press (2004) at http://www.statestats.com/dang9403.htm. Morgan Quitno Press is an independent private research and publishing company which was founded in 1989. The company specializes in reference books and monthly reports that compare states and cities in several different subject areas. In the first 10 years in which they published their Safest State Award, Vermont has consistently remained one of the top five safest states.

[13]Memo by Jim Smith, Secretary of State, Florida Department of State, Division of Licensing, Concealed Weapons/Firearms License Statistical Report (October 1, 2002).
14Florida's murder rate was 11.4 per 100,000 in 1987, but only 5.5 in 2002. Compare Federal Bureau of Investigation, "Crime in the United States," Uniform Crime Reports, (1988): 7, 53; and FBI, (2003):19, 79.

[15]John R. Lott, Jr., "Right to carry would disprove horror stories," Kansas City Star, (July 12, 2003).

[16]Gary Kleck, "Crime Control Through the Private Use of Armed Force," Social Problems 35 (February 1988):15.

[17]Compare Kleck, "Crime Control," at 15, and Chief Dwaine L. Wilson, City of Kennesaw Police Department, "Month to Month Statistics: 1991." (Residential burglary rates from 1981-1991 are based on statistics for the months of March - October.)

[18]Kleck, Point Blank, at 140.

[19]Kleck, "Crime Control," at 13.

[20]U.S. Department of Justice, Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, Rape Victimization in 26 American Cities (1979), p. 31.

[21]U.S., Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, "The Armed Criminal in America: A Survey of Incarcerated Felons," Research Report (July 1985): 27.

[22]Id.

[23]Id.